With a Final-Hole Birdie, Xander Schauffele Knocks Down the Door to First Major Title

The 30-year-old had failed to close a number of times this season and had 12 top-10s in majors without a win. But one six-foot putt changed everything in a PGA Championship triumph.
Xander Schauffele won his first major Sunday at Valhalla Golf Club.
Xander Schauffele won his first major Sunday at Valhalla Golf Club. / Adam Cairns-USA TODAY Sports

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Standing near the very spot where dreams were fulfilled only moments earlier, Maya Schauffele could fully grasp that enormity of what her husband accomplished on this wild day, the celebratory scene still unfolding around her.

Needing a birdie to avoid a playoff and overcoming some of his own doubts and demons, Xander Schauffele hit the putt on the 18th green at Valhalla Golf Club that looked good, then didn’t, then circled the cup and dropped for an immensely satisfying victory.

A boisterous and enthusiastic crowd of spectators that not long before was cheering an equally impressive birdie from Bryson DeChambeau was now in full throat, as Schauffele raised his arms in triumph, hugged his longtime friend and caddie, Austin Kaiser, and exited to thunderous cheers.

He then greeted his wife with a tear in his eye.

“He was a little emotional there,” she said. “I don’t really come from a golf background. Winning the Gold Medal (at the 2021 Olympics) was such an achievement, but something about having a major is all time. I know this means the world to him.”

No doubt.

Schauffele, 30, faced the most challenging 573 yards of his life as he knew exactly what was required—and how to avoid a three-hole aggregate playoff with the long-bombing DeChambeau, who put together his own epic round of 64.

After a drive that came to rest just outside of a fairway bunker, requiring him to stand in the sand and hit a shot with the ball above his feet, Schauffele delivered a perfect strike, knocking it 35 yards short of the par-5 green. From there, he pitched to just outside of 6 feet and the Wanamaker Trophy hung on that final putt.

“I was able to capture that moment there, getting up-and-down on 17 was really big, and then that chip there on 18 was big for me, as well,” said Schauffele, whose 65 included seven birdies and a bogey. “I just kept telling myself I need to earn this, earn this and be in the moment, and I was able to do that.”

The winning putt for a first major title and eighth PGA Tour victory, he said, was daunting, even if it was relatively straight.

“I was pretty nervous,” he said. “I walked up, I saw a little left to right. I kept reading it, kept kind of panning. Started to look right to left to me and I thought, oh, my gosh, this is not what I want for a winning putt.

“Fortunately, it was uphill, it was six feet-ish. I ended up playing it straight. It did go left, caught the left side. Just so much relief. When it lipped in—I don't really remember it lipping in, I just heard everyone roaring and I just looked up to the sky in relief.”

That was understandable, given the tumult of late. Even a major-championship-record-tying 62 to open the tournament on Thursday brought out the doubters who said Schauffele couldn’t finish.

And his recent track record provided plenty of ammo. Four times this year, he had been in the final group and failed to win. The most recent was a week ago, when he took a one-shot lead into the final round at the Wells Fargo Championship, only to get smoked by Rory McIlroy.

He was in the final group at the Sentry, at the Genesis Invitational at the Players Championship, leaving each tournament without the trophy.

In fact, Schauffele, considered one of the game’s top players and now ranked second in the Official World Golf Ranking, had not won since the 2022 Scottish Open. His high ranking was testament to his consistency and his resiliency.

Part of the process involved a swing change that began late last year with instructor Chris Como, who a decade ago worked with Tiger Woods and more recently with DeChambeau.

That move to Como meant a departure from Schauffele’s dad, Stefan, who had been his only coach. And such changes don’t always take hold right away, which might explain some of the shaky final rounds.

But Schauffele adapted quickly and still put together a number of good results. He’s currently got the longest made-cut streak on the PGA Tour at 47 and his victory was his ninth top-10 finish of the year.

“He’s great at compartmentalizing some of the work that we're doing for the long run to turning it off and competing in the moment,” Como said. “He’s one of the best at that.”

Only five times has a 62 been shot in a major, two this week. Schauffele has two of them, including one last summer at the U.S. Open.

Forgotten, too, was that he had the lowest 72-hole score at the Tour Championship, a tournament that crowns a winner (Viktor Hovland) based on a staggered pre-tournament scoring system. Hovland missed a playoff Sunday by three shots and finished third.

Schauffele began the final round tied with Collin Morikawa, who had a tough day, managing just one birdie to tie for fourth, six back. A two-time major winner, Morikawa saw up close what Schauffele accomplished.

“It was awesome. I'm so happy for him,” Morikawa said. “Obviously he lived in Vegas for about a year and we played every day. He's obviously been very close. He's one of the best players in the world. Today was exactly all that put into one. He knew what he had to make on 18, and that's what great players do. He was hitting the shots, he was making the putts.”

A key moment in the round occurred when Schauffele made a bogey at the par-5 10th hole to give up two shots to DeChambeau and Hovland, each of whom birdied it. The tournament could have gotten away from him there.

But he bounced back with birdies at the 11th and 12th holes to stay in control and never lost at least a share of the lead until DeChambeau tied him with his birdie putt at the 18th.

“Grit,” said Kaiser, who played college golf with Schauffele at San Diego State. “He bogeyed a par-5 right when we’re in the mix. He didn’t change one bit. The next two holes he birdied. He never gives up.

“Maybe inside he was fighting something,” Kaiser added. “But it’s hard to win out here. You look at Tiger and what’s doing and Scottie (Scheffler). Dominating. It’s not that easy. You don’t see guys popping off five wins a year like Scottie’s doing. Just keep knocking on the door.”

On a glorious Kentucky Sunday, Schauffele knocked that door down.

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Bob Harig


Bob Harig is a senior golf writer for Sports Illustrated. He has more than 25 years experience covering golf, including 15 at ESPN. Bob is a regular guest on Sirius XM PGA Tour Radio and has written two books, DRIVE: The Lasting Legacy of Tiger Woods and Tiger and Phil: Golf's Most Fascinating Rivalry. He graduated from Indiana University where he earned an Evans Scholarship, named in honor of the great amateur golfer Charles (Chick) Evans Jr. Bob, a former president of the Golf Writers Association of America, lives in Clearwater, Florida.